How far do we want to go with cutting our pack weights? I’m sure that the companies and the media surrounding them would wish this was at each new technological advance. I’ve thought about this more and more, with my tent now looking particularly obese compared to similar offerings. Weighing in at 1.3 kilos, the old style TN Laser tent is like a home from home, but has been superseded by a newer model which is barely more than a couple of hundred grams lighter and you lose the double doors on the front which is the best feature of this tent. The only weight my tent has lost in this time is a small corner that the hoover removed from it while it was drying. Less a hole, more improved airflow. Shelling out another three hundred quid, I could reduce the tent to under a kilo with the competition, at the expense of space and a single door.
Or down to a miniscule 720g for the Photon, so long as I’m happy to live with a tent that even the manufacturers state is not that durable and only suited to short term use.
At what point do we discard our trusted and expensive equipment (ok – sell it off on eBay) to save the equivalent weight of a bowel movement? I’ll admit. I’ve grown comfortable with my gear. I’m happy with my 4.5kg base weight. If I succeed to lower this by, say, 200g, that’s an extra 200gs of luxury I can carry with me. It also seems that throwing money at yet lighter equipment brings even more diminishing returns, with each advance even the weight reductions are becoming lightweight. Most of which brings with it less function, such as the Photon being much less durable than it’s heftier siblings.
Going lighter by alternative methods is the other option. As someone who doesn’t carry poles any more, the tarp has become much heavier as a result. Carrying a light tent – with the option of using it as a head cover in uncertain weather, or without in fine weather, or fully sealed up in foul weather – seems a sensible option. All this can be done with a tarp, but despite the slight weight penalty, I’d choose the tent. Certainly the last three summers we’ve had in Eryri has made me feel that way! If we get a nice dry summer next year – then i might think again. Skimping on clothing – or taking a sleeping bag that doubles as your only insulation might work on the PCT, but at best you’d get some strange looks walking through Llanberis dressed like that, beaten up at worst. Nothing wrong with taking a light shirt or top so you look half respectable when you pop into the pub for a meal and a pint even if it does weigh a couple of hundred grams.
It’s important to realise that less is never more – no leeway for mistakes or bad luck. While skill and judgement can help minimise that, nothing can stop misfortune. Having a bottle of sticky liqueur spill over my gear on the first day of a six day trip was a heady mix of both. While it should not have been inside my pack in the first place, hindsight is a fine thing, that was the only place in my tiny pack it would fit. Everything dried off, but my sleeping bag still makes a noise like a crisp packet, and the trip went fine from that point onwards. Moral of the story? Drink your alcohol on the first morning…
Going lightweight is just one tool to make our wilderness journeys more enjoyable. If only by making the essentials light enough so we can pack a few of those luxuries that raise our morale and contributes towards a more successful trip. Increasing our knowledge of what to use and when is important. I have spent my way to a lower pack weight, where losing a few kilos around my middle and increasing my fitness would have been cheaper and better for me. Lightening my load did allow me to enjoy the hills when I was unfit and overweight, but what ensures I get the most out of my current time in the hills is my improved fitness level.
It is easy to become fixated on lowering pack weights and succumbing to the consumerism that inevitably surrounds any activity that depends on the latest technological developments. Are we losing sight of what’s important in our sport and becoming mesmerised by all the new shiny things? To put it another way; should we be getting excited with a rucsac that’s 200g lighter than the previous one? Or waking up on wild camp to discover that the mist that dampened everything in your porch overnight has suddenly dropped and you’re camped over a sea of cloud with the nearby summit resplendent in the morning light. Can a gas stove ever be more exciting than getting to the hill and finding a winter playground of snow? The real shiny shiny is not in a bubble-wrap parcel the postie delivers, but out there in our hills.